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Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - Table of Contents

The National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding

I -- marihuana and the problem of marihuana

The Search for Meaning

One overriding influence in contemporary America is the declining capacity of our institutions to help the individual find his place in society. As one of the participants at the Seminar observed:

A society is stable, peaceful, happy, not when it has rid itself of the tensions-because you never get rid of the tensions, because people's drives will be satisfied in ways that clash and so on-but when a very high proportion of the people feel fulfillment of some sort within the context which the society normally provides. The long-term problem now, for many many people, not just young people, is that this condition is not met.

Another noted:

What is wrong with our social system, it seems to me, is that it no longer inspires in people a feeling of purpose, meaningfulness and so on.

A number of institutional trends have joined to deprive the individual of a sense of communal inspiration. Perhaps most important is the economic element. Whereas the individual's economic achievement formerly gave his life broad social meaning and inspired his existence, automation and technological advance have tended to depersonalize the individual's role in the economy. Instead of the economic system being dependent on individual productivity, the individual is increasingly dependent on the system. As his work dwindles in significance to the total society, it diminishes in meaning for him. Moreover, as more and more of our people share the nation's affluence, Horatio Alger's example is no longer needed to climb the economic ladder.

A particularly emphatic manifestation of the declining economic demand on the individual is the institutionalization of leisure time. Whereas the economy used to require long hours of work, now it barely requires more than a five-day week. Expanding vacation time and reduced work-weeks tend to diminish the strength of the work ethic. The implications of enforced leisure time are only now becoming apparent, and the concept of "idle hands are the devil's plaything" has to be reexamined in terms of acceptable forms of non-work behavior. This new time component, allowing for the assertion of individuality, has produced both privileges and problems.

In the last decade we have seen the beginnings of the institutionalization of this leisure ethic. A leisure-time industry has sprung up to organize this time period for the individual. Many Americans, due to the nature of their jobs in an automated economic system, find little personal satisfaction in their work, and many are now searching for individual fulfillment through the use of free time. Where meaning is not found in either work or recreational pursuits, the outcome is likely to be boredom and restlessness. Whether generated by a search for individual fulfillment, group recreation or sheer boredom, the increased use of drugs, including marihuana, should come as no surprise.

Another social development which has chipped away at individual identity is the loss of a vision of the future. In an age where change is so rapid, the individual has no concept of the future. If man could progress from land transportation to the moon in 60 years, what, lies ahead? Paralleling the loss of the technological horizon is the loss of a vision of what the future, in terms of individual and social goals, ought to look like. Are times moving too fast for man to be able to plan or -to adjust to new ways and new styles? This sense of the collapsing time frame was best summed up by one of the Seminar participants:

.... there are great forces that have developed over the last several decades that cause one to lose sight of the distant future. Let me contrast a rural farm family of several decades ago which settled a farm. They expected their children to live there, they can imagine their grandchildren living there-there is an image of the future. There is really no one who [now] has any image of where his great grandchildren will he or what they will do. This comes about because of the nature of industrial society; it comes about because we have retirement plans instead of looking after one's own old age. There area whole set of these [factors].

Now the morality, the ethics get tied into it because ethics are really a long-time horizon concept. It's something you engage in because it's contrary to immediate reward and immediate gratification and so you look to some distant future. But as one loses sight of any future then I think the ethics and morality creep up to the very near term also . . . We have no one who has got an image of this country two hundred years from now, who is trying to create a structure that be believes will exist that long. So a number of these things . . . tie together in terms of the long-term goals and how they have shifted. In any of our systems there tend to be a conflict between the short-term and the long-term goals. If the long-term goals are lost sight of then the short-term expediencies seem to be the things that well up.

To the extent that planning for the future no longer gives the individual his inspiration, he must look to the present. Such a climate is conducive to pleasure-seeking, instant gratification and an entire life-perspective which our society has always previously disclaimed A third force depriving the individual of a presumed place in society is the loss of a sense of community, a sense of belonging. Mobility, mass living and rapid travel all conspire to destroy the smaller community. The family moves from place to place and then separates with each child going his own way. This global thinking leaves little time for home-town concern.

The dissipation of geographic roots parallels a social uprooting. As one of our Seminar participants noted:

When you grow up with a, small number of people with whom you have to live for a while, it does something which isn't done now. It forces you to face yourself. It forces you to ask what kind of pet-son you are, because you can't get away with it with a group you're going to have to live with. They know what you really are. The mobility has the effect of making it possible for people to live playing parts for years. It seems to me we see it among the youngsters: role playing as distinguished from being somebody. . . .

All of these social trends have their most potent impact on young people who are just beginning to develop their values, beliefs and commitments. The adult society has found it easier to adjust to the emergence of the leisure value. Having experienced it as a gradual process, they see it as a reward for previous toil. For many of our young, however, a substantial segment of leisure time may be considered an essential part of living; they have known no other experience. Similarly, an adult society, increasingly influenced toward the present, at least has developed an historical perspective. Also, adult values were internalized at a time when a future vision was possible. For many of the young, however, the present weighs more, heavily. This notion is best reflected in the vociferous youth response to the Vietnam conflict, the embodiment of a war fought for the future,

Finally, all of these cultural changes have occurred, especially for the young, in an environment of affluence. The successful economic system has maximized individual freedom. But the individual has been given unlimited choices at exactly the time when a, value system within which to make such choices is in doubt. Because he has no sense of direction, the result is restlessness, boredom and an increase in the likelihood of present-oriented choices. Self-destructive drug-taking is one form such behavior may take. One of our Seminar participants observed in this connection:

It seems to me that you've got this affluence. So that while most of us grew up with the feeling that the channels within which we were going to have to move and make choices were very narrow, channels for these youngsters look absolutely open. It's an absolutely a, la carte menu-it's the biggest a la, carte menu you can imagine. [This occurs] in a situation in which this sense of radical change is going on so fast that you can't master it, together with a feeling that the society is being operated by very large organizations which you can't get a grip on, giving one a sense of helplessness, of not knowing where to take hold. All these things inherently are disorienting to youngsters and don't give them a, feeling of challenge, [but rather] a doubt as to the meaning of their own lives, of the significance of their being here, [a sense of] being atoms. So then they do act like children in the sense of behaving violently to call attention to themselves. They do a whole lot of other things which, it seems to me, are the sort of things you often see when people feel their lives have no meaning.

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